Being a professional soccer player comes with many injury risks. The three you tend to see the most are concussions, soft-tissue injuries and the infamous ACL tear. The ACL tear is often the worst, as it typically ends a player’s season and leaves a team looking for a replacement.
Columbus Crew SC is all too familiar with ACL injuries, especially the tears. That’s what the Crew had to deal with when left back Milton Valenzuela suffered the injury last preseason, causing him to miss all of the 2019 season.
After a year of rehabbing, Valenzuela is now back for the Black & Gold. The Argentinean made his first appearance since Oct. 28, 2018, on Sunday in the 1-0 win against New York City FC and he did not miss a beat. Valenzuela got the starting nod in the season opener for Columbus.
In his first match back, Valenzuela was the player Crew fans remembered. He was strong defensively on the left side of the Black & Gold’s backline and he got up and down the flanks and created a few chances, including one that almost led to a goal by winger Pedro Santos. The Argentine defender led the entire team with 106 touches and 81 total passes and racked up an impressive 87.7 percent passing accuracy, according to Opta.
”He’s an unbelievable player,” head coach Caleb Porter said of Valenzuela after the game. “I didn’t get to coach him last year; I watched him from afar prior to that. Massive impact for us on both sides of the ball. He’s even better than I thought he was. This guy’s a top, top-class left back.”
When Valenzuela arrived in Columbus from Newell’s Old Boys, he was stronger on the defensive side of the ball, showcasing himself as one of the best one-on-one defenders in Major League Soccer. As the 2018 season progressed, the offensive side of Valenzuela’s game began to evolve and he finished the year with one goal and six assists. With Valenzuela returning from the injury and back into the left back spot for the Crew, the team’s forwards know he will get them good looks for an opportunity to put the ball in the back of the net.
Valenzuela showed both sides of his game on Sunday against NYCFC and was pleased with his return.
”Very happy to be back,” the defender told Massive Report. “Very happy to get started with a win, and now we have to look forward because this is a very long season, and we have to continue looking at things so we can progress.”
Fans were ecstatic to see the return of the young and talented defender and that was obvious when the lineups were announced when the supporters cheered the loudest as Valenzuela was introduced during the pregame festivities.
Although there was certainly eagerness to get back on the field with his teammates after the injury, Valenzuela knew that he had to do as the doctors told him to make a precise and near-to-perfection recovery.
”Patience,” Valenzuela said of what he needed to get through his time away from the team last year. “Listening to what the doctors and trainers were telling me to do, working on my strengthening as I needed to, and listening to what is best for me.”
When asked what motivated him to get better and get back to being competitive, he said his teammates. “Just seeing my teammates train and knowing I was unable to help them.”
Valenzuela looks to continue his impressive return this Saturday as the Black & Gold travel to the Pacific Northwest to take on reigning MLS Cup Champions, Seattle Sounders.